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As U.N. gathers more data, Bush team calls Saddam `serial liar'

WASHINGTON—United Nations weapons inspectors on Sunday said Iraqi officials appear to be taking disarmament talks more seriously and have handed over new documents on anthrax, nerve gas and missile development.

The Bush administration responded with skepticism and said time was running out for Iraq to come clean. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Sunday called Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "a serial liar" who built up his weapons of mass destruction over 12 years in defiance of U.N. disarmament demands.

"The Iraqis are playing a game here," Rice said on CNN. "They do this every time they feel a little bit of pressure. What they're trying to do is create a little bit of sense that they're moving forward so they can release the pressure on themselves. But they have one thing to do and one thing only, and that is to disarm" and answer questions about what happened to their chemical and biological weapons.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, speaking to reporters after his Saturday and Sunday talks in Baghdad, said: "I hope I have seen in those days the beginning of taking these remaining disarmament issues more seriously."

"We impressed upon the Iraqis that we need quick progress and drastic change. Yes, we have seen progress but we need quick progress," chief nuclear weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said.

Blix said Iraqi officials turned over a number of new papers related to the country's chemical and biological weapons, but he said they needed to be examined further to assess their value. Iraqi presidential adviser Amer al Saadi said officials also had supplemented a list of the country's nuclear scientists.

Blix said Iraq had not agreed to the use of American U-2 surveillance planes.

President Bush kept up the pressure on the United Nations. In a speech before a Republican policy conference in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Bush said the international body faces a "a moment of truth."

"The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything," Bush said. "But one thing is certain. For the sake of peace and the sake of the security of the United States and our friends and allies, we will disarm Saddam Hussein if he will not disarm himself.

"He's used to fooling the world. He's confident he can fool the world. He wants the world to think hide and seek is a game we should play. It's over," Bush said.

France and Germany have proposed to beef up the inspection teams. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported details of a plan by the two countries, saying that U.N. weapons inspections would be tripled, all Iraqi flights would be banned and U.N. peacekeepers would be deployed.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck confirmed a plan was being discussed, but would not give details. He said German forces "could well take part" in any peacekeeping in Iraq.

Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, pushing the administration's case in a round of appearances on the Sunday morning television news shows, rejected the French-German proposal. Powell called it "a diversion, not a solution."

"The issue is not more inspectors. The issue is compliance on the part of Saddam Hussein," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Also Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin after a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin said he supported a peaceful disarmament and saw no reason for using military force against Iraq.

"We are convinced that a one-sided use of force would lead to great suffering for the population and increase tension in the whole region," the Russian leader said.

Struck said that France and Germany will introduce their proposal to the United Nations on Friday. Putin said Russia and China support the plan.

China, France and Russia are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and hold veto power. The United States and Britain are the other members of the council with veto power.

A second report by weapons inspectors is due before the council on Friday. In their first report Blix and ElBaradei said Iraq had not cooperated fully with teams of U.N. inspectors.

Powell said Friday's report would be critical, and that the council would have to decide what the next steps should be.

Rice said the United States would launch "a fairly intensive diplomatic process" over the next several weeks to bring more nations on board. She said the U.N. Security Council must hold the line with Iraq to maintain its credibility.

In other developments:

_Coalition aircraft on Saturday attacked an Iraqi military mobile command and control facility near al Kut, 95 miles southeast of Baghdad in the southern no-fly zone, U.S. Central Command said.

_Pope John Paul II pleaded for world prayer to avert a war. The pope will dispatch a top envoy on a peace mission to Baghdad to try to persuade Iraq to cooperate with the international community.

A statement released by the Vatican said Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who is French, would head to Baghdad Monday.


(Ibarguen reported from White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., McCaffrey from Washington and Rubin from Munich and Berlin.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.